Tamilakhon Khaydarova.


The Road to Equality: women’s struggles for rights in Afghanistan.


The research presents an analysis of the historical, political, cultural as well as social aspects that have played a crucial role in shaping the status of women in Afghanistan. It examines the systematic oppression and violence faced under different regimes and highlights the resilience and activism that women have embodied against adversity. The study explores women’s struggles aiming to challenge societal norms and combat injustice in various areas such as education, political participation, employment, and access to health care. It also illustrates the vitality of Afghan women’s empowerment and full participation in all aspects of society. The paper concludes with the potential for further progress, emphasizing that continued efforts are the key factor in overcoming adversity. It also demonstrates the strong correlation between social progress and stability and the promotion of women’s rights in Afghanistan, which together create a better future for all.

Key words. Afghanistan, gender-based violence women’s rights, equality, gender-focused institutions, status of women, access to education.


An overview

Afghanistan is a landlocked multiethnic country located in between Central and South Asia. Lying along important trade routes connecting southern and eastern Asia to Europe and the Middle East, Afghanistan has long been a prize sought by empire builders, and for millennia great armies have attempted to subdue it, leaving traces of their efforts in great monuments now fallen to ruin.[1]

Afghanistan is also known for its rich heritage and tumultuous history, offering a solid ground when it comes to the situation of women. Over the years, Afghan women have faced numerous challenges, yet their resilience and determination have become symbols of hope and progress for brighter future.

 Historical Context:                                                                                                                                    

The role of women in Afghan society before conflict and political instability

The history of women’s rights and their role in Afghan society paints a complex and diverse picture. Before the conflict and political instability that Afghanistan experienced, women played a significant role in various spheres of society. Women fulfilled roles as teachers, government workers, medical doctors, lawyers, judges, journalists, writers and poets up until the early 1990s. Moreover, women had constituted 40% of the doctors in Kabul; 70% of school teachers; 60% of Kabul University professors and 50% of the University students.[2] It was not unusual for men and women to casually mingle at movie theatres and on university campuses. This is a far cry from little girls heading to schools today fearing an acid attack.[3]  While Afghan society was largely patriarchal, with males holding positions of authority and power, women’s roles were not insignificant.

In Afghan society, domestic duties, such as managing the household and raising children were primarily responsibilities of women. They were expected to adhere to strict cultural as well as religious norms, including wearing the hijab or burqa. However, women also played important economic roles, specifically in rural areas, where they engaged in agriculture and livestock rearing.

Afghan women were also prominent in the arts, where they held roles as poets, writers, and musicians.

– The impact of war and conservatism on women’s rights

The impact of war and conservatism on Afghan women’s rights has been dramatic and devastating. In the late 1970s, Afghanistan witnessed the Soviet invasion, which led to prolonged conflict and instability. Meanwhile, conservative ideas gained traction, which significantly affected women’s rights, including their social and political participation.

Under the Taliban regime, which ruled large parts of the country from 1996 to 2001, women faced extreme oppression and gender-based violence. The Taliban imposed a strict interpretation of sharia law and Pashtun code of conduct Pashtunwali, which severely limited women’s freedoms and rights. Women were effectively banned from education, health care, and employment, and their visibility was effectively erased from public life.

– Key milestones in the fight for women’s equality

Despite the challenges, Afghan women have shown great courage and strength in the struggle for equality. Several key factors characterize this ongoing war. A pivotal moment came with the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001, following a U.S.-led invasion. followed the lead. This move paved the way for the gradual restoration of women’s rights and participation in society. Afghan women regained their right to education, employment and political participation. A new Afghan constitution adopted in 2004 established equal rights for women, allowing them to participate in politics, society and the economy. Article 22: “Any kind of discrimination and distinction between citizens of Afghanistan shall be forbidden. The citizens of Afghanistan, man and woman, have equal rights and duties before the law.” [4]

Another significant development was the establishment of the Women’s Office in 2001 later transformed into the Ministry of Women’s Affairs of Afghanistan and abolished in 2021 after the Taliban take over. This government agency has played a pivotal role in advocating for women’s rights and combating gender-based discrimination. Nevertheless, the role of women in Afghan society before the conflict and political instability was multifaceted. Traditional gender roles had prevailed, but many Afghan women were actively involved in different parts of the society. However, the impact of war and extremism has severely undermined women’s rights. Despite these challenges, Afghan women have made great strides in the fight for equality, driven by such milestones as the establishment of basic gender-focused institutions and laws marked by important milestones such as the establishment of key gender-focused institutions and legislation. The ongoing struggle for women’s rights remains a vital aspect of Afghanistan’s journey toward a more equitable and inclusive society.

– Problems faced by Afghan women in everyday life

Afghan women have endured a lot of challenges throughout their history and have faced systemic discrimination and oppression. Their struggles were deeply rooted in cultural norms and exacerbated by periods of conflict and political turmoil.

For example, today, Afghanistan’s women and girls are required to adhere to a strict dress code and are not permitted to leave their homes without a mahram (accompanying male relative). They are compelled to stay at home.

All over the country, women report feeling invisible, isolated, suffocated, living in prison like conditions.[5]

In recent years, however, there has been a growing recognition of the significance of women’s empowerment in Afghanistan, as it is important for the country’s progress and development in numerous aspects.

Historically, Afghan women have faced immense hurdles in their quest for basic rights and freedoms. Traditional gender roles have dictated a subordinate position for women in society, with limited access to education, healthcare, and employment opportunities. They have been subjected to strict social and cultural restrictions, often denied the right to make decisions about their own lives. Under the Taliban regime, these limitations worsened significantly, with women virtually disappearing from public life.

Through grassroots movements and campaigns, they have been striving to assert their rights and challenge gender inequality. “Bread, Work, Freedom” one of the most frequently used and popular slogans during the grassroots protests led by women. The demands were remarkably simple yet crucial. Women were defending what they knew the Taliban would attack: their independence, agency, mobility, and freedom. These women were asserting their rights to social and financial independence. They were also demanding dignity and risking their lives for a better future for all Afghan people. [6]

-The significance of women’s empowerment in the country

When investigating why some countries develop and become prosperous and others remain in poverty and conflict, experts have discovered that women can make the crucial difference. Scholars see a link between increased women’s empowerment and positive outcomes for women, children, and society as a whole.[7] Empowering Afghan women is critical to the future stability and development of the country. Ensuring women’s equal participation in all spheres of society is important for democracy as well as the economy. Empowering women enables Afghanistan to tap into a vast pool of talent, skill and creativity that has long been overlooked due to neglection.

 Furthermore, the empowerment is pivotal for sustainable peace and security. Women are essential agents for positive social change, and their voices and perspectives must be included in all efforts to rebuild the nation. They definitely have unique insights into problems related to health, education, and community development, making their involvement in decision-making processes absolutely indispensable.

Education plays a pivotal role in empowering women. Historically, the female literacy rate in Afghanistan has been extremely low. However, efforts have been made to increase female enrollment and improve the quality of education. Education provides women with knowledge and skills, enabling them to become economically independent, make informed decisions, and actively participate in the active live of their communities.

Employment opportunities are also crucial for women’s empowerment. These opportunities not only provide financial stability but also empower women to challenge traditional gender roles and contribute to the economic growth of their families and communities.

Political participation is another significant aspect of women’s empowerment. Afghan women have been increasingly participating in political processes, both at the grassroots and national levels. Their inclusion in decision-making processes ensures their voices are heard and their perspectives are considered in shaping policies and laws that affect them directly.

Access to healthcare is essential for women’s well-being and empowerment. Afghanistan has made significant progress in improving maternal health, reducing child mortality rates, and combating diseases. The empowerment of women in this aspect involves ensuring their access to quality healthcare services, reproductive rights, and gender-responsive healthcare policies.

Although noticeable progress has been made, dramatic hurdles in achieving women’s empowerment in Afghanistan are still concerning. Cultural norms, violence against women, and limited access to resources continue to hinder progress. Continuous efforts are needed to tackle these issues and create an environment where women can live without fierce of future and where they are empowered and their rights are protected.

Current Situation:

 – The status of women’s rights in modern-day Afghanistan.

The status of women’s rights in modern-day Afghanistan is a topic of great importance and concern.

Since the Taliban took control of Afghanistan, during which time it has imposed the most comprehensive, systematic, and unparalleled assault on the rights of women and girls. According to UN Women executive director Sima Bahous more than 50 edicts, orders, and restrictions, the Taliban have left no aspect of women’s lives untouched, no freedom spared. They have created a system founded on the mass oppression of women that is rightly and widely considered gender apartheid.[8] Many are unable to have their basic needs met without access to employment or aid, including access to medical healthcare and psychological support in particular for victims of violence, including sexual violence. It’s a sobering reminder of how swiftly and aggressively women’s and girls’ rights can be taken away.[9] Despite efforts made by the international community and local activists, women in Afghanistan still face significant challenges and obstacles that hinder their ability to enjoy their rights fully.

 – The impact of cultural, social, and political factors.

Cultural factors play a vital role in the status of women in Afghan society. Afghanistan has a deeply rooted patriarchal culture, where gender roles are rigidly defined, and the authority and decision-making power are given to men. Practices such as child marriage, honor killings, and the denial of education to girls are common, and lie in culture more penetrating values that promote persistent gender inequality. These practices restrict women’s freedom and limit their potential for both personal and professional development.

Social factors also contribute to the challenges Afghan women face every day. The prevailing conservative views in Afghan society regarding women’s roles and behaviors further restrict their rights and freedoms. For instance, women in almost all cases face severe restrictions on their mobility and interaction with unrelated males. These social norms reinforce the idea that a woman’s primary role is various household chores, limiting their education, employment, and participation in civic life.

The political landscape in Afghanistan has also shaped the status of women’s rights. Decades of conflict and instability have adversely affected gender equality efforts. Particularly from 1996 to 2001, the Taliban regime severely restricted women’s rights, confined women to their homes and denied access to education and employment. Although significant progress has been made since the fall of the Taliban regime, political instability and the ongoing insurgency act as a hurdle to the implementation and enforcement of laws that protect women and their rights.

Despite these challenges, Afghan women have made remarkable strides in recent years. The adoption of the Constitution of Afghanistan in 2004 and subsequent legal reforms have provided some protection for women’s rights. The establishment of the Ministry of Women’s Affairs and greater representation of women in political decision-making positions have also been positive steps but there remains a huge gap between legislation and implementation, leaving many women vulnerable to discrimination, violence and social inequality they are set aside.

– Address the challenges and obstacles women continue to face.

It is important to focus on short-term and long-term strategies to address the challenges and obstacles that Afghan women continue to face. Short-term interventions can include safe spaces, support services, and legal assistance for survivors of gender-based violence. Investment in education and skills training programs can empower women economically and increase their social and political participation. Long-term strategies should aim to change cultural norms and attitudes towards gender equality through awareness campaigns, community engagement and legislation jointly advocate for reforms Work together at the domestic and international levels to build a just and inclusive society that respects and protects women’s rights.

Women’s Empowerment Initiatives:

 – The efforts made by various organizations and individuals to promote women’s empowerment.

   Given the historically unequal status of women in Afghanistan, women’s empowerment has become an important and ongoing issue in Afghanistan. Various organizations and individuals have made significant efforts to promote women’s empowerment through initiatives, campaigns, and projects. These endeavors aim to improve women’s access to education, employment opportunities, and participation in the decision-making process.

One notable organization working towards women’s empowerment in Afghanistan is the Afghan Women’s Network (AWN). With inspire from women’s movement in different part of the world; finally, in 1995 participants (women) of the conference decided to establish Afghan Women Network (AWN).

Afghan Women’s Network is the foundation for Afghan women’s movement, which serves as a stable network for growth of those women’s organizations they are active in the country.[10]

AWN has played an important role in advocating for women’s rights and supporting their social, political and economic participation. AWN has implemented a number of successful initiatives and campaigns focusing on raising awareness of women’s rights, skills training and promoting women’s leadership roles.

Another notable initiative is the Afghan Girls’ Robotics Team, which gained international recognition and acclaim. Comprised of young Afghan girls, who had a passion for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), this team has defied societal expectations and challenges to showcase their talents on a global stage. Their participation and success in international robotics competitions have challenged gender stereotypes and inspired many young Afghan women to pursue a career in different STEM fields.

 – The impact of education, employment, and participation in decision-making processes.

Education has proven to be an important tool for women’s empowerment in Afghanistan. In recent years, great strides have been made in girls’ access to education. Establishing and supporting girls’ schools, scholarships and education programs to increase female enrollment and improve female literacy Education not only equips women with knowledge and skills but enables them to contribute to the socio-economic development of their communities.

Employment opportunities have also played a key role in women’s empowerment in Afghanistan. The establishment of microfinance programs, vocational training centers, and enterprise development initiatives has provided women with opportunities for economic self-reliant. Through these initiatives, women gain financial independence, improved their living standards, and challenge traditional gender norms and roles. Furthermore, the employment of women in various sectors contribute to the overall economic growth of the country.

The participation of women in decision-making processes is another crucial aspect of their empowerment. Efforts have been made to increase the representation of women in politics, governance, and community leadership roles, which is a positive development for overall conditions as well as basic equality in the country.


 – Summary of the current situation and progress made.

The promotion of women’s rights has been a key driver of social progress in countries around the world. Afghanistan, a country with a long history of patriarchal values ​​and gender inequality, has struggled to empower women and ensure their rights are protected.  Afghanistan has experienced significant upheaval and social transformation in recent decades. The country’s turbulent history, including conflicts and political instability, has had a profound impact on the status of women. Prior to the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001, women in Afghanistan faced severe oppression, with limited access to education, employment, healthcare, and political participation.

Much progress has been made since then. The Afghan Constitution, adopted in 2004, establishes the principle of gender equality and prohibits discrimination against women.

In 2023, Afghanistan remains the only country where teenage girls and women do not have access to education, employment, and freedom of movement. Despite the severe economic costs of maintaining these restrictions—not only for women and girls but for the entire population—the Taliban have been persistent in maintaining these bans.

The Taliban’s restrictions on women’s rights are compounding the humanitarian disaster in Afghanistan that was prompted by the sharp cut-off of most foreign aid after the Taliban takeover in August 2021. Taliban regulations prevent women from working for humanitarian organizations, thus making it more difficult for women and children to get aid and secure livelihoods.[11]

 – The potential for further advancements. 

Although progress has been made, major challenges remain. Afghanistan continues to face social, cultural, and economic barriers that hinder the full realization of women’s rights. Traditional gender norms and discriminatory attitudes persist in many communities, limiting opportunities for women and exacerbating gender-based violence.

Continued efforts at various levels are needed to overcome these challenges and further advance women’s rights. Addressing gender inequality requires a comprehensive set of measures covering education, economic empowerment, health care and the legal system. It is important to provide quality education to girls and ensure equal opportunities for their development. Economic empowerment programs that enable women to participate fully in the workforce and decision-making processes are also needed.

  – The importance of continued support for women’s rights in Afghanistan.

Promoting and protecting women’s rights in Afghanistan is not only a matter of justice but also critical to overall social progress and stability. Several studies have shown positive correlations between gender equality and economic growth, social cohesion, and sustainable peace. With access to education and equal opportunities, women can contribute to the workforce, inspire innovation, and contribute to the overall well-being of their families and communities. Empowering women also creates an inclusive society, where ideas and talents are valued and utilized. Supporting women’s rights in Afghanistan continues to be a priority for the Afghan government and the international community. Adequate funding and resources are essential in the implementation and implementation of laws and policies that promote gender equality. In addition, awareness campaigns and education programs should be used to challenge harmful gender stereotypes and promote a culture of respect and equality.
















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